“The quiet mystery of a head which will never turn, intimate yet remote, the face forever unseen, is a subject I have found myself drawn to investigate repeatedly. My figures may seem frozen in a place of stasis and reflection, in the eye of the storm, attempting to reconfigure themselves and perhaps on the cusp of transformation, but they are always on the verge of some private evolution”.
In Unknown Women, Roxana Halls' third solo exhibition for Hay Hill Gallery, the identities of the artist's subjects, as the title suggests, forever elude us.
We find ourselves irresistibly drawn to Halls' Unknown Women, yet they perpetually refuse our gaze. We cannot help but wish to turn the women around to see their faces, to lift the plate or unpin the paper which covers them, and yet they evade our curiosity, offering to disclose only a glimpse.
Just as the unidentified subject of Baudelaire's poem La Chevelure, a hymn to a beautiful head of hair, inspires the lover to 'sow rubies, pearls and sapphires' into the 'ebony sea' of her 'strong tresses', Halls, in her Backs series, adorns her women with bewitching clues as to their identity, or of what they may be in the process of passing through.
A suggestion of metamorphosis is made all the more explicit in Nest I & II in which the hair envelopes each female's head as if to form a cocoon. The vivid beauty of the garments, their fabric alive with butterflies and birds contrasts with the obscured faces of these enigmatic women.
Totemic in their apparent simplicity, their protagonists seemingly poised in a state of liminality, these images engender a sense of the uncanny and are charged with possibility. Enticing yet at times perhaps troubling, Halls' Unknown Women leave us with our longing intact, insisting that the viewer will always be left in an exquisite state of unknowing.
Having set up her studio in an old theatre in South London, Roxana Halls’ paintings are haunted by a dark ‘backstage’ atmosphere. This artist looks to unnerve her audience, exposing where the paint is peeling and the masks are slipping. Halls’ work is in many private and public collections in the UK and internationally, and her commissions include Alan Grieve CBE, Chairman of the Jerwood Foundation, John Simopoulos, Emeritus Professor, St. Catherine's College Oxford and Nick Hackworth for Brian Sewell, art critic of the London Evening Standard.